When a Basketball Training Session Blew Us Away

Katie P here reporting on a recent basketball challenge. The results of this training session were a bit different to what I was expecting…

So, as part of my challenges, I had the extreme pleasure of meeting Rachael Vanderwal, Team GB and Gernika basketball player. I cannot tell you how excited I was about meeting Rachael, an athlete at the top of her game and for my first time trying basketball my coach was more than a little impressive!

I met Rachael and her coach James Weldon outside the court and after the intros were done we headed in for a spot of basketball….Katie P style! With never-ending patience Rachael showed me how to hold the ball, throw the ball and (after quite a few attempts on my part!), how to get the ball through the hoop. It is a comment on how lovely Rachael is and how much she enjoys her sport that when I eventually got a basket she was really excited for me. It was quite the thrill to be cheered on by a member of Team GB. I loved every minute.

Now, I also learned how to do a lay-up – dribble, take 2 steps, throw, repeat as necessary (in my case quite a lot), but my coaching session, however exciting for me, is not what I need to tell you about. It will be a memory I will always have – sharing a court with Rachael. I am so grateful that I got the chance and still cannot quite believe that an athlete at this level would take time out of their schedule to meet little old me. What I really need to tell you about was the peek I was given into the training of an athlete like Rachael. It was inspirational and I don’t have the talent to do it justice in writing, but here goes….

So, after my session with Rachael I left and sat court side to watch her train, and what a privilege it was. I got to see something very different. We have all seen the game face. We have seen the athletes on the court, pitch, track, water ready to go. We have heard the national anthems. We have seen them square up to their competitors and we know what a game face looks like. What we rarely see is the peek behind the curtain that shows what an athlete must do to get to the point of international competition with confidence that they are ready, that they are the best and that they will win.

The court was dark, not too many lights on, the sun was spotlighting areas on the court. The overall feeling was foreboding and intimidating. It was as if Rachael was against the court. Bending it to her will and fighting against it for victory. There was something gladiatorial about it. No crowds, no noise, just Rachael, her coach and a silent court – watching her every move. It was simply the coolest session I have ever seen.

A younger player, with oodles of talent, joined Rachael on the court. They started their drills and after each drill they clapped hands, (think high 5). There was something about the clap that I found inspiring. After each athlete had taken their turn it was like they were passing the baton and saying “Your go. Do your thing.” It was clearly part of the ceremony of basketball and I liked it. It is a sport that plays to the team as much as the individual and Rachael, like all truly talented people, wants to help others to shine.

I had to wonder how I would have felt with someone sitting and watching me train. Rachael didn’t even think about it. No self-consciousness, total focus. Elite. She moved like no one I have ever seen before, I could have watched for hours.

Brid came with me and we sat watching. We didn’t speak a word to each other. That is how good Rachael is. She struck two of the chattiest girls on the planet into total silence. Many a teacher has wished they had that gift!

Her relationship with James, her coach, was fantastic. She executed each drill with precision and vigour. If she had to go back and do it again, she just did. No groaning, no moaning, no hint of frustration. Her head never went down, she was fully present the whole way through, 100%, no emotions getting in the way. It was the first time during my Challenge Katie P journey that I really stopped to think about my approach to sport. Could I be that focused? Would I get frustrated? Sloppy? Head down? It was a fascinating education on what it takes to get to an international level.

Watching the session made me wonder if athletes like Rachael understand their power over the rest of us? They inspire, they motivate. They get us on our feet cheering, they allow us to live every high and low with them. They offer up their hard work and dedication to the gods of sport and (in my case) they frequently move me to tears. The training session may have been lost in the millions of sessions an athlete like Rachael does, but not now. Not for me.

Rachael started playing basketball at 12 and it is clearly her thing. She is a perfectionist and that serves her well in her training and her career. She looked complete on the court. She was where she should be, doing what she was meant to do. It felt great to witness it.

The only thing left to say is that not only is Rachael a phenomenally talented athlete but she is a really nice person. Friendly, encouraging, warm….and whilst she might not know it, I have plans afoot to make sure she becomes my very best friend! Rachael Vanderwal fan club? Sign. Me. Up.

Rachael is currently in Spain playing with her team Gernika.

Follow their progress at: http://www.gernikasaski.com/

Follow Rachael on Twitter: @rachvanderwal

Wishing you a week that felt as good as this experience,

Katie P